Lead and Drinking Water


Water is a minor contributor to the problem of lead poisoning, but the Milwaukee Water Works takes a proactive approach to protecting customers from lead in drinking water. The Milwaukee Water Works has not detected lead in its treated water or source water since it began testing for lead in 1992.

Water absorbs lead from solder, fixtures, and pipes found in the plumbing of some buildings and homes. Where high levels of lead are found in water, the most common sources are lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, faucets made of brass and chrome-plated brass, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect a home to the water main.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two types of homes are primarily at risk from lead contamination from drinking water:

  • homes built before 1940 with lead services or lead pipes
  • homes built between 1982 and 1987, which used copper pipe with lead-based solder

In 1986, Congress banned the use of solder containing more than 0.2% lead and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes, and other plumbing materials. Houses that have copper services do not have measurable lead in the water.

The Milwaukee Water Works began a corrosion control program in 1996, which has resulted in a significant improvement in lead at customers' taps. We add a phosphorous compound to the water that forms a coating on the inside of pipes to prevent lead from leaching from plumbing materials into the water.

In accordance with EPA regulations, MWW has tested for lead every year since 1996 at selected "at-risk" homes identified by the EPA as containing certain plumbing features. If an individual home exceeds EPA action levels, the MWW advises those residents of the results and provides guidance on how to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water.

Most recent tests indicate Milwaukee water is in compliance with lead regulations. Concerned residents can take several precautionary steps to further limit possible exposure.

  • Flush your kitchen water tap. This is a simple method to avoid high lead levels. Let the cold water run from the faucet, until noticeably colder, about one to two minutes, before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in the faucet has been unused for more than a few hours.
  • Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap. Hot water is more corrosive than cold water and is more likely to contain lead.
  • To learn if lead is present in your home drinking water, arrange to test your water, at your own cost, by a state-certified laboratory.

Infants and young children are typically more vulnerable to lead in drinking water than the general population. It is possible that lead levels in your home may be higher than at other homes in the community as a result of materials used in your house plumbing. For additional information call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline, 800-426-4791.